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The homemade lasagna was delicious that August night in 2011; it is a meal I will never forget. Within an hour of finishing dinner, my upper abdomen felt like it was turning to stone, hard and rigid, painful to touch. For the next five days, I was in agonizing pain. I had developed pancreatitis, and it was unrelenting, not to completely subside for several weeks to come. What I realize now is that this marked a turning point in my life, but I still had to live the next four years to understand this fully.
Nine months later, I started losing weight, slowly at first then more drastically as the months passed. Within one year, I lost over 30 pounds. Further testing revealed that I lacked sufficient digestive enzymes to breakdown my food. Not only was I losing weight, but I started losing muscle tone. Synthetic digestive enzymes slowed the weight and muscle loss over the next few years but did not stop it. It took removing gluten before the weight stabilized and several more years before being able to regain some of it.
During this time, however, many other complications and conditions arose: gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, skin rashes and hives, worsening peripheral neuropathy and mental health, and multiple positive auto-nuclear antibody (ANA) tests, among others. My whole body was screaming out in pain and traditional medicine could not find a causative link between any of my symptoms. I was tested and retested for all the common culprits, and even a few rare diseases – nothing definitive.
Knowing the full breadth and scope of my symptom history, which in retrospect actually began after major surgery in 2003, I knew all these symptoms had to be related. So I began researching on my own and keeping a daily log tracking my intakes, outputs, and symptoms. I soon noticed patterns. My physical and mental symptoms spiked with environmental factors like stress and lack of sleep, dietary factors like gluten, dairy, and highly processed foods, and ingestion of certain medications. I began to alter my environment, diet, and medication usage. The changes were remarkable. I saw marked improvements in health by removing the offending foods and certain medications. The continual weight loss stopped, and I began to stabilize. If I reintroduced these substances back into my body, more severe symptoms re-emerged quite rapidly.
Reflecting back on the years prior to pancreatitis, I began to see how the stage had been set for more and more gastrointestinal inflammation, sensitivity, and deficiency long before my body erupted into one huge ball of inflammation and pain. Suddenly, everything was linked, not officially diagnosed, but linked, and that filled me with a sense of hope and the desire to help others not have to go through everything I had gone through to finally find some relief.
In my former position at a local nonprofit as a Certified Health Coach and Peer Support Specialist for those with mental health and/or substance abuse disorders, I routinely heard stories of peers struggling with gastrointestinal symptoms and other chronic conditions. We are repeatedly told gastrointestinal complaints are common symptoms of mental illness. However, I believe that in many people with mental health challenges, their mental health is a symptom of underlying gastrointestinal dysfunction, inflammation, chronic stress and trauma, not the other way around. I am living proof of this statement.
This is precisely what took me back to graduate school for the second time, to study nutrition and its relation to the body and mind. I gained a solid foundation to explain bodily symptoms, physiology, and pathologies. After several years of graduate course work, some of my symptoms began to resurface. I had fixed the gut issues, so why was this happening? Why was I not completely healed?
I was forced to acknowledge that chronic stress and my belief that I had to do everything perfect were two of the driving forces behind my illnesses, as well. Subconsciously I think I knew this, but consciously I had failed to take this into account and implement stress-reducing strategies into my daily routine. Therefore, I inadvertently was leading myself down the same road I had just traveled. This highlighted the interconnectedness of the different domains of resilience (mind, body, spirit, emotions) and that a truly balanced and holistic approach was needed for well-BEing. As a result, I took a leave of absence from school to reflect on my journey- where my path was headed, where I wanted it to go, and how to get there. In the end, I diverted from my dietitian path to health coaching.
At this point, I had addressed the body and mind. Things continued to improve; however, I still felt like something was holding me back from true healing. It wasn’t until writing a holistic wellness curriculum at work that I had my “ah-ha” moment. The reason I had never addressed spirit in my healing was because I believed mine was fine. What could I possibly do to improve this area? I had a wonderful childhood, had been a successful college professor, and had a healthy, beautiful family. What was there to work on in this realm? What I had not accounted for was the fact that becoming ill had threatened or changed many of my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs around my ability, confidence, and energetic capacity, not to mention my spirit. Talk about creating internal conflicts!
I had been denying that I had experienced profound trauma during my life – I was a teenage mom, I had abandonment issues, and I never felt good enough, just to name a few. I realized that grief and loss are not synonymous with death. I had experienced serious loss and was denying that I needed to grieve – loss of health, loss of dreams, loss of career, and loss of identity. Talk about a threat to your meaning and purpose in life! As I began to work on rebuilding my spiritual identity, it became apparent how many emotional walls I had built up in an effort to protect myself. The more I acknowledged these areas, the more confident I became in my new self. The more confident I became, the smaller the walls became. I began to put myself out there more, and the more I did this, the more I was able to (re)discover my spirit and embrace my emotions.
Today, I am neither cured nor the poster child of health. My story is a journey of wellness, not a destination to a cure. I still have issues that I must work to manage everyday. It is a lifestyle and a choice, but I make those choices willingly and openly. By addressing mind, body, spirit and emotion, I have been able to build my resilience, improve out-of-control weight loss and muscle wasting, digestive complaints, and chronic pain. My mental health is the best it has been in a long time, and my spiritual and emotional capacity are growing through acceptance, trust, and the belief in myself and a greater purpose.
What I bring to the table is lived experience, strength, and hope for a better tomorrow. Let me help you rediscover the person you want to be. BE's ACT for Resilience (TM) and GO RESET (TM) protocols offer strategies that are effective in addressing the mind, body, spirit and emotion, all aspects that are necessary for living a balanced and fulfilled life of wellness.
Balanced Energies was created out of the desire to help others regain wellness by balancing their whole selves. This program is not a cure, nor does it promise one. However, it can and does offer the possibility of a brighter tomorrow- one embodied by wellness, regardless of life’s circumstances, diseases, or diagnoses. It offers a chance at balance and well-BEing.
By having walked this road, I can relate to clients in ways that those who have not experienced this cannot. I understand the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual ramifications that dis-ease can have on someone, and I can offer hope from the perspective of someone who has been in their shoes.
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